Literally. Today, I’ve packed up a giant bag of finger paints, paint brushes, canvasses, crayons and markers, and papers for an activity I will host tonight on campus. The explicit goal is to paint a spiritual memory. The implicit goal is to focus on how difficult– nearly impossible– it is to express the depth and mystery of our moments of connection with the Divine.
Last week, we played a game where my Interfaith Student Leaders tried to pass along a spiritual memory through a version of the game telephone. At the end of several “shares” the stories would come out recognizable but warped. Some aspect of the memory would be changed or emphasized or minimized. Each person along the way interpreting and twisting the story to make sense to them. To the original bearer of the story, the moment which started out so weighted with import, detail, and emotion, has become something else; something foreign. And of course, that is the point. Sharing the depth of our lives is hard. It is more akin to art than science. So tonight, we paint.
My Interfaith Student Leaders are all undergrads and they come from a variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds. Some of them come from no religious or spiritual background, but are deeply hungry for some depth and insight into religion. They usually don’t want to join anything, but they want to engage with religion. Whether they come from a religious background or not, nearly all my students seem to want to engage with religion as a way of understanding what their lives are about. While religion offers us some great tools for meaning making, it isn’t so great at telling you what your life means. Sadly, I’m often the bearer of the news that the only way to figure out what your life is about is to put in the hard work of figuring out what your life is about.
Tonight we will paint something that is impossible to paint. We will try to put form and structure on something meaningful and close to us. We will try to use images and colors to express something felt and nearly indescribable in language. I bet we won’t get it right, but at least we will have tried.